It wasn’t long after we brought home our Italian greyhound puppy that we started calling him “Corso, the Wonder Dog.” What a charmer. I was smitten.
But when Corso had his first seizure three years later, I was scared.
He was in the car with my husband and suddenly started flapping around, “like paddling a rowboat with his hind legs and front legs,” Steve told me. Corso didn’t answer to his name, nor did he seem aware of his surroundings.
Our veterinarian’s office just happened to be nearby, and when Steve arrived Corso was calm and responsive. But when the vet came into the examining room, Corso was just coming out of a second, milder attack. Good thing I wasn’t there.
The vet looked Corso over, gave him a shot to prevent another immediate seizure and ordered blood work to see if the attacks might have been caused by something other than a misfiring brain — kidney or liver disease, or diabetes, for example. The tests, however, confirmed our worst fear: Corso had canine epilepsy, likely inherited and incurable.
We learned that if the seizures recurred only intermittently, we would just need to keep him safe until they stopped. In more serious cases, when seizures become as frequent as once a month or more, there is a risk of brain damage and anti-convulsive medicine is required. Corso turned out to be in the latter group.
Corso wasn’t a rescue or a shelter dog. We wanted an Italian greyhound puppy and made a decision to go through a breeder. And we got a dog with seizures. Of course, rescue and shelter dogs can have seizures too. But here’s the thing: Canine epilepsy like Corso’s can’t be cured, but with the right medication, most cases can be managed and the dogs can live otherwise normal, happy and active lives.
It’s true. Corso the epileptic IG just celebrated his 12th birthday.
Corso takes Phenobarbital twice a day and rarely has seizures more than once or twice a year, and that’s usually because he managed to dig the tiny pill out of his food dish and hid it somewhere. Ever the Wonder Dog, he is playful, impish, flirtatious, and dedicated to ridding the neighborhood of cats and squirrels. He travels with us, loves the beach, loves to run, adores playing with fluffy white dogs and buries treats (for later) in the sofa or under my pillow. Come by and you’ll find him snuggled up close to me n what I can only described as doggy bliss. Now that’s a happy and active life.
Here’s what the Canine Epilepsy Network website, which is sponsored by the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, says about living with an epileptic pet:
Most epileptic pets can live relatively normal lives. We can successfully control epilepsy in over 2/3 of the cases. These dogs may require daily medication, but they can still run and play and love. Even the best controlled epileptic will still have some seizures, but usually we can keep their occurrence down to a tolerable level. The number of dogs who have serious side effects from the medications is very small. Some may experience sedation, but this does not prevent them from being loving companions. They don’t need to stay awake in class or behind the wheel, so if they need an extra nap in the afternoon, who cares!
Yes, even one of those rare seizures still frightens me, but when you get the kind of love and companionship – and, in our case, entertainment – that dogs provide, it’s worth it.
It’s no secret that every other weekend, a group of extremely dedicated UHA volunteers gives up a precious weekend day to help dogs in need at the shelter find their way out of anonymity by photographing and videotaping a hand-picked group of highly adoptable dogs that need a little extra help to make them sparkle. Volunteers will generally choose which dogs to include in the photo shoot the day before, so they can get everything organized in advance.
As it happens, a little dog named Henry (originally thought to be named “O’Toole”) got passed over (probably not the first time in his life), and was likely next in line for euthanasia. He was visibly sick (a white dog with chronic diahrrea), emaciated, lethargic, and very matted and dirty. He wasn’t the kind of dog an average person would want to pick up, let alone take on as a project. But somewhere in there was a wonderful and amazing soul just dying to be loved and recognized—and yet he languished under matted hair and fecal material, too smelly and weak to make anyone interested.
A Sweet Soul, Forgotten and Clinging to Life
And yet, these very qualities are what sometimes do get the attention of a big-hearted UHA volunteer, and he had one other thing going for him: he shared a kennel with another dog on the list, who happened to get adopted. So, when it came time to get the little white dog out of the kennel, guess who got picked up? Henry!
This little guy was not snuggle material yet. He needed a bath, badly. He needed a shave as well. Lucky for him, he got both, as it was UHA glamour-shoot day and we weren’t going to take his photo like that! No way! This delicate and serene long-legged poodle mix got scrubbed and clipped, and came out looking like a shorn lamb, and bewildered to boot.
His big eyes blinked in the bright sun and he didn’t know where he was but it was better than where he was before. All the attention was overwhelming, and he was weak. He trembled in the arms of the volunteer presenting him for the camera, and had to be cradled in a towel, as he didn’t have a tail and was suffering from Giardia, a parasite that infects the bowel tract. He was cleaned up on the outside, but still a mess inside.
The director of the UHA Shelter Support Program, Laura Knighten, who has a soft spot for small white dogs, had her eye on him, and was concerned. “I didn’t think he was going to make it through the weekened, let alone through the night.” She just wasn’t sure she could bring home and care for this sick dog, but continued to fret. “I already had another foster and two more at home, and my condo was close to bursting.”
As kismet would have it, another volunteer, Amanda Wray, also noticed Henry’s tenuous condition, and her heart went out to him. “I was worried for that little dog. He looked so sad and downcast and was hanging onto a thread. I had a feeling he had a wonderful spirit in there somewhere, and deserved a chance.” UHA’s glamour shoot had already worked its magic, before the photos and videos even went public. Amanda spotted Henry when she was helping upload the videos to YouTube to make public. She called Laura and Laura knew right away that together they could rescue and care for Henry.
They jumped in their cars and met at the Baldwin Park Animal Care Center and sprung Henry from his crowded kennel. The hard cement floor must have been unforgiving on his bony frame. Laura brought Henry to a “meet and greet” enclosure where Amanda waited for her to gently place him on the ground. They held their breath as he stood there, struggling for balance on his tip toes, and fell over. He picked himself up and wobbled again, but this time held his ground.
“He reminded me of a newborn fawn he was so delicate and unsteady,” Amanda said. “It was as if he had never been in the open before. As a matter of fact, his lack of a tail and difficulty balancing made me think someone had botched trying to dock his tail, and kept him in a tiny kennel most of his life, probably for breeding.”
Video of Henry (formerly “O’Toole”) just before his rescue
Laura, who had stopped to get him a hamburger on the way to the shelter, gave it to Amanda to feed to Henry and she tore it up into tiny pieces while he watched. The aroma got his attention and he moved forward very slowly. She offered him several small pieces.
“It took him a minute, but he ate every last one,” Laura laughed, remembering the moment. “I wasn’t sure he would be able to, but he did. He was hungry.”
Amanda decided she would foster Henry at her house, and Laura would serve as a backup, in case something came up. Turns out, Henry fit in just fine—but it took some time to get him rehabilitated. He didn’t get in that condition overnight, and it would take several weeks of TLC before he would be ready for adoption. The first stop was the vet’s office, where Henry stayed for a week being treated for Giardia. It’s highly contagious, and Amanda didn’t want to risk her own dogs catching it, so she opted to play it safe and boarded him at Family Dog and Cat Animal Hospital in Monrovia. He was well looked after, and is fondly remembered to this day.
Upon bringing Henry home, it soon became apparent that Henry would need more that just a full plate of food. His balance issues persisted, and he had a peculiar behavior that was going to make gaining weight a tricky undertaking: when food was put in front of him, he would start a ritualistic pushing away of the bowl with his nose, and it was pink and raw on top, not the shiny, moist black it should have been.
This fueled Amanda’s suspicion that he was likely kept in a kennel most of his life. “If he was in a small, confined space that was not kept up, and he had to eat and defacate in the same place, I think I would have pushed things away also. He couldn’t get away from things in his space, so he pushed them away from him.”
As a result, getting Henry to eat required creative thinking.
“At first he wouldn’t eat at all if I told him not to push the bowl away, and then I think he thought he wasn’t supposed to eat when I was around, so I would end up leaving the room and then he would eat. When it became apparent he wasn’t gaining weight, I started buying whole roasted chickens from the grocery store and hand feeding him. It was a real song and dance.”
Despite the slow progress, Henry did thrive in his new environment. He became steadier on his feet every day, and gradually gained weight, ounce by ounce. After a couple of weeks he was playing with her dogs in the yard, barking at them to egg them on, and curling up next to her on the couch like he had done it all his life. Not long after that, a potential adopter called, and Henry’s fate was sealed.
The Perfect Fit
“This woman was perfect for him,” Laura said. “She had two the other small dogs, worked at home, had a yard, and a poop-proof floor in her house, glazed pebbles of all things. Wow. I couldn’t believe his good fortune. On top of that, she was extremely gentle, and sensitive to his future needs.”
Before Amanda released Henry for adoption, he needed to weigh at least 14 pounds, as that’s what the vet required to neuter him. Every few days she put him on the scale, but his appetite was finicky, and his weight went up and down. “I about went crazy trying to put weight on him, but he made it!” Amanda said. And now Henry is living the life up in the Hollywood Hills.”
Talk about a rags to riches story!
“Appearances aren’t everything, but a bath, haircut and good photo can really turn a shelter dog’s life around,” Laura said. “That’s what our Shelter Support Program is all about. Volunteers make all the difference in these dogs lives, and now, thankfully, our program is expanding to other Los Angeles County shelters, including North Central and Downey. We are so pleased, and I think the dogs are pretty happy about it, too.”
So what started out as a mix-up and bad paperwork turned out to be a home run for Henry!
When Jana Savage, animal advocate and UHA volunteer, first laid eyes on the sick kitten in the Baldwin Park Animal Care Center’s medical clinic, she knew she had to help. Chloe, as Jana named her, was suffering from Sarcoptic Mange, a skin condition caused by mites. Under most circumstances, Chloe’s chances of adoption would have been small, but this little one was lucky to have Jana on her side.
In the end, Chloe turned out to be Bob (oops!), and with the help of Jana, UHA’s Angel Fund, a donation from the Heigl Foundation, and a compassionate foster mom, Bob is now healthy, happy, and, most importantly, home. This is Bob’s story in Jana’s own words:
When I first met Bob (and for the next two months) I thought he was a Chloe. I like to think this early gender mixup has not had a lasting effect on him. By the looks of it, Bob is doing just fine these days.
Sweet Bob was suffering horribly from Sarcoptic Mange at the shelter. When I saw him in the clinic I knew I was in trouble because I just couldn’t let him fall through the cracks, and there was no way my 3 dogs would allow a cat in our house.
An amazing friend of mine, who already had a full plate with two dogs and a small child, took him in and nursed him back to health. Once Bob was healthy, she graciously said goodbye to Bob and I sent him to live with my brother, his wife and their cat, Midge, in Maine. Bob is doing swimmingly and getting more and more acclimated to a stable and loving home every day.
My brother sent me this message: “He keeps going through phases of comfort…About a week ago he started sprawling out in all directions, when before he would always tuck his limbs in while he napped.”
Bob has completed my brother’s family and they couldn’t be happier. My brother and his wife have a loyal companion, and Midge has a best feline friend forever. The difference between when I first saw him and how happy and healthy is now is a prime example of what can happen when people join together to save a life.
Meet Blackie, the poster puppy for spaying and neutering. Many might ask how a well-behaved, loving four-month old puppy winds up at a shelter as an owner surrender. Unfortunately, the answer is all too common: Blackie was part of an unplanned and unwanted litter. Unable to care for their own dogs plus a litter of Rottweiler-Pit Bull mix puppies, Blackie’s former owners surrendered her to the shelter. Celene, a committed volunteer, instantly fell in love with the sweet puppy. Celene recalls:
“She was the perfect forever dog, the one that would cuddle up and try to fit in your lap. She was smart and easy to train, she would be fun to take on hikes or chase tennis balls in a dog park. She was adorable and would be the dog to show off to the world. It broke my heart to see her shaking in the shelter and shattered me to think she might have lost her life, since her owners couldn’t find a home for her all because they didn’t spay or neuter their pets.”
Stories like Blackie’s often don’t end well. Young puppies have immature immune systems and are susceptible to disease. Further, crowded shelters that receive stray and surrendered animals every day cannot keep dogs indefinitely, and even puppies can be put to sleep if no one comes to adopt them.
Thankfully, though, Blackie’s story has a happy ending. With a little help from her UHA Glamour Shot and video, which highlighted her winning personality, and the advocacy of UHA and shelter volunteers, Blackie was adopted. Because she was spayed on adoption, she will not contribute to the cycle of unwanted, homeless litters.
“The kisses she gave me will always be a happy memory knowing she is safe now,” Celene says.
Please help stop this cycle by spaying and neutering your pets, and encouraging your friends and neighbors to do the same. Some low-cost spay/neuter resources include:
The Jason Debus Heigl Foundation spays and neuters animals for free through their Heigl Ray of Hope Program. Residents of Baldwin Park (zip code 91706) and El Monte (zip codes 91731, 91732, and 91733) can set up an appointment with one phone call to 818-755-6045.